Creating PDF Forms in InDesign

We asked Gabriel Powell to create a video that addresses the workflow of starting a form in InDesign and completing it in Acrobat. He did an excellent job.

Click here to watch Gabriel Powell’s video

As the Creating PDF forms topic suggests, the gist of the workflow is that you design a form in InDesign that includes placeholders for fields such as radio buttons, check boxes, and text fields. Then you export to PDF and use Acrobat to convert the placeholders into form fields.

This isn’t a perfect workflow. Ideally, you should be able to add form fields in InDesign so that exporting to PDF results in a finished form. Instead, you end up with two master documents, which means that if you need to make any changes in InDesign, you’d have to redo all the form field recognition work in Acrobat.* Still, if you make the right decisions and create a clean InDesign document, it’s a good way to make data forms.

As we were putting together the plan for this video, I came across a detailed document from the Acrobat team that provides valuable technical details on field recognition and best practices for designing a form. View Notes on Form Field Recognition (PDF).

UPDATE: See also Michael Murphy’s videocast on designing PDF forms in InDesign:

UPDATE: The Acrobat team wrote an article about Designing forms for auto field detection in Adobe Acrobat.

* Kriss has an interesting workaround tip in comments. Basically, you can use the Replace Pages feature in Acrobat to swap in an edited InDesign page without losing the buttons. Bob Levine describes the process in detail in this InDesign Secrets post.

22 Responses to Creating PDF Forms in InDesign

  1. Kriss Laber says:

    If you have added/fixed fields in Acrobat and need to re-do the Indesign file, save the PDF as a different name. Go the the original .pdf and replace the page with the new .pdf. The form fields should stay in place and the document is replaced in the background. I have a “form” template for fillable certificates with which I use this method every month.

  2. Hari says:

    Hi Kris, how exactly? Do you open/place the fields-active-pdf in Indesign and make changes to other elements? Or, are able to somehow incorporate changed elements within Acrobat?I can’t imagine how either is being done, unless the all the changed elements are a seperate page from the form page. Appreciate any detail you can give.

  3. kmk says:

    Hi thereI simply can’t get text field with more than one line work! I have tried the table mode with two rows, but it doesn’t work!Regards,

  4. James says:

    @ HariFrom my understanding of what Kriss said, basically you have one file which is your Main PDF (with the interactive form fields in place) and another PDF which is the updated page that needs to be replaced (one exported from InDesign or Illustrator).If it’s something simple like a few word or date changes and the other form structure is still the same, then all you have to do on your main PDF file in Acrobat is Go to the page that needs replacing, then go to Document > Replace Pages and then choose the new page you just made.Acrobat will then leave all the form fields in place and just replace the page behind (kind of like layers; the page being the layer behind and the form fields the layer in front)

  5. Tim W says:

    Does anyone know of a way to create a form, then place the form in an Indesign document where the fields could be changed?I’m looking to create a proof sheet in Indesign where static elements, variable components (such as names, job descriptions, etc.) could be changed, and the design could be copied and pasted into the allotted space.We currently just have an Indesign document where these elements are already in place, but I figure it would make changing the various pieces easier if it were a form (i.e.- tabbing between fields).Also, something that would be nice… same concept, but with a field that would generate a sort of serial number (for things such as invoices).Does anyone have any insight they could share? Thanks!

  6. Kriss Laber says:

    Harry is right. I have two pdfs. Once I make a form and apply all the fields, I save a copy and call it “[title] save for links.” That way, If I have minor changes, I can change the InDesign document, re-export to a different name, open the “save for links” file and replace the document layer with the updated PDF. The form fields layer stays intact. If something has shifted, I can open form editing and move fields around. I have since done this with a 220 page manual with sophisticated internal and external linking I did not want to program over and over.

  7. DanJ says:

    I think I get it…but “Replace Pages…” is greyed out. Any idea how to make the command available? Thanks!

  8. Anthony Watson says:


    I played around a little with Kriss’s suggestions. Before replacing the page in the original form, you have to “Close Form Editing”. This enables the Replace Page… command in the Document menu. I chose the new (edited in InDesign) document as the replacement and it “updated” correctly.

    As an aside, this really needs to be improved in upcoming versions. After all, it’s very easy to roundtrip from Flash or Dreamweaver into Fireworks for image editing or even Photoshop and Illustrator (using Smart Objects).

  9. Thomas says:

    I am looking to do something quite basic.

    I just want to have a multi line text field that I create at the right position on the page in InDesign. That then can be recognised and converted to an editable text box for people to write comments in, in acrobat.

    Is this possible?
    I don’t want any lines or markers etc.

  10. I can’t answer the last one (sorry Thomas) but I found I can copy fields from one .pdf to another by the simple process of copy-and-paste. Have both docs open at the same time, highlight all the fields on the page, and away you go. It might be a nightmare in a 200 page document, but it worked fine in my six page form.

  11. Adobe Question says:

    *How do I create grouped radio buttons that flow horizontal (Left to Right)?
    *How do I make the submit button email the form in PDF format and not .XML?

  12. Ahmad says:

    Hello All,

    I need to setup a fillable PDF form on our website, with a “Submit” button. When the user fills the form and submits it, I then need to capture the data entered by user to an XML file for further processing.

    Can someone please — at a high level — tell me what do I need? and where to start? Really appreciate your inputs, and thanks in advance.



  13. Ron Widman says:

    Does anybody know how to create a fillable GRAPHIC FIELD? I have a client that wants to insert both text and photo into a PDF, then print that PDF in-house. Both the text and the photo are about individuals or families, and will change from card to card. I’ve created the text fields; now would like to give them a box into which they can import JPEG or TIF pix.

  14. Marinda says:

    It appears that the video doesn’t exist.

  15. Valeri says:

    After having converted my indesign form to an intereactive pdf one, when we write in the fields, we are unable to get the accents on the letters (because my form is in French). All the letters withotu accents are OK, but it’s impossible to get the accents. :( Is that a bug? For us it’s a huge problem, since we cannot write without the accents!

    Someone knows about this? I really don’t know what to do now…

    Thank you!

    • Jean Philippe says:

      avez-vous eu une réponse pour les accents dans le formulaire. J’ai le meme problème.
      Did you received an answer about the accent problem in a form?

  16. Samantha Knight says:


    I am creating and interactive form and I’m trying to create placeholder text for my text boxes to reduce the amount of headers within the document.

    Does any one know how to do this?

    Kind Regards,

  17. Sharony says:

    I have a multiple page document with fillable forms created by someone else. On my end I would like to be able to copy a page with the fields and be able to type into them with new information. I tried this: I extracted a page and placed it back in the document. When I type in a field, the information is duplicated on the page I added in. How do I duplicate a page so it has its own distinct fields without having to assign a new name to each field?
    Any help on this would be appreciated as I have searched thru myriads of “help” tutorials etc with no luck.
    thank you!

  18. Richard says:

    How do I place a submit email button on a fillable pdf form?

  19. wes says:

    Regarding the interactive PDF form…once the recipient starts filling out the form, I presume they are only limited to the fonts they have downloaded on their machine, is that correct, is there a way you can link/embed google fonts like you can with websites?

    Who knows such wizard ideas?